Microsoft Surface a true threat to the iPad

A funny thing has happened of late. The Microsoft Surface has re-emerged as a serious threat to Apple’s iPad.

I realize this is all blasphemous on my end. With me being an Apple stockholder and top tier fanboy. I am maniacal about the Apple brand. I still have my first Apple 2E safely stored away at my house. In a protective case, mind you. I also store my first iPhone in the dash board of my car. I don’t even use it, but I have comfort knowing it’s there.

So, for me to even ponder this idea is crazy enough.

Microsoft Surface
The Microsoft Surface is only in need of a brand to beat Apple.

Just consider what Microsoft Surface has on the docket. The first of which is the Surface Studio — a cinema display that can be transformed into a desktop studio (this has to be an art director’s dream). Microsoft also sports a Surface Book and Surface Pro 4.

All told, the Microsoft Surface products look as exquisitely designed as Apple’s, but with a greater dexterity (they are all both a computer and physical creative surface). What’s even greater than that is Microsoft’s decision to brand its devices to the creative professional. That, my friends, is how to steal market share.

Microsoft Surface just needs a brand.

This hasn’t always been the case. In fact, several years back I wrote about the Surface 2 and how its launch highlighted the unemotional. Back then, the Microsoft brand stood for over complexity (just the opposite of Apple). It was all about the gizmo, not the customer.

A year or so ago, I had brushed upon the idea that the Microsoft Surface was a wiser business choice over the iPad because it had greater functionality. But I still wasn’t committed to the idea, because even then, Microsoft hadn’t found it’s voice.

That isn’t the case any longer.

With the banality that surrounded the latest Apple event (where the reimagined MacBook was unveiled with the vigor of Eeyore), there is opportunity for the competition to make some noise. Apple still holds the throne because of its brand. But if Microsoft can take off its cloak of complexity and grab an emotional stance, it’s got the hardware to back it up.

A Brookstone rebrand is desperately needed

I did something that I really detest the other day — I went to the mall.

My wife and I were away for a few days and had an afternoon to spare. Being a bit of a pushover when it comes to my wife, I gave in. Most times, this means I hang around clothing stores with her in the hopes that I can locate a comfy chair to park myself in and peruse the apps on my phone. Sometimes I get lucky, like at a DSW, and there’s a chair in front of TV with ESPN airing. If I am not a stereotypical guy, I don’t know who is.

Walking around with my wife, I was reminded of a time — long, long ago — where there were stores that met the liking of the tech geek in me. Now, not so much.

Brookstone rebrand
A Brookstone rebrand is needed for it to regain relevancy.

FYI, a music and DVD store, sells a modicum of titles an exorbitant rate. Best Buy Mobile has phone cases and a tablet or two, and Brookstone is filled second rate technology.

Brookstone was once a store I coveted to visit. Before Apple, Microsoft and Amazon were making the coolest gadgets, the outlet shop’s goods would give me butterflies. I’d soak up everything on every single shelf and pick up and tinker with all of it.

Now, the goods at Brookstone are like the cheap goods on display just prior to the register at TJ MAXX.

A Brookstone rebrand is a must.

There is enough lingering positive connotation here that a Brookstone rebrand would be most welcome. In fact, it’s needed or the brand will go away. Just recently, the company announced it will introduce its products in Macy’s (although Macy’s has its own problems.) I’m not sure if that will fix the problem. Macy’s is also flirting with irrelevancy and I don’t see the synergy between the two brands.

In fact, it’s probably a weakening of the Macy’s brand. What does its brand stand for now? Talk about the need for a rebrand.

What better time for Brookstone to examine its brand more closely, weed out the inferior technology and bring back the state-of-the-art merchandise that put it’s name on the map? It’s time for Brookstone to regain its importance to tech nerds like me.

Right now is the time for Brookstone to reimagine itself as a visionary company, not just a trendy one where teens can hang for an hour and sit in a massage chair.

Amazon Unlimited Music strikes the right chord

I like my music.

In fact, I am about as much of a music nut as I am about the latest tech fads. Maybe even more — as crazy as that is to believe.

On a typical summer night, you might find me outback on my deck. There, I’ll have a fresh Maduro cigar in one hand and two fingers worth of Laphroaig in the other, all while listening to some of my favorites: Diana Krall, Van Morrison or Dougie McLean. That’s the good life.

This is why the release of Apple Music was perfect for a guy like me. I had every song imaginable right in the palm of my hand (if I happened to be using my iPhone) or computer.

Amazon Unlimited Music
Amazon Unlimited Music gives more power to Echo.

This all proved to be handy as my Apple Music account was connected via bluetooth — not my favorite method of listening to music, mind you — to my Amazon Echo. Sure, this was the ultimate clash of my favorite brands, but it worked well enough. I could ask Alexa, the Amazon Echo personal assistant, to turn down the volume if need be, but less easily had to change the songs from the connected Apple device. I’ll add too that, for the longest time, I wished Amazon had a catalog of music as in depth as Apple’s, not just the decent yet limited Prime selection. That way I could simply ask Alexa to play music with out the middle man (sorry, Apple).

Last week, my wish was finally granted.

Amazon Unlimited Music makes things easier.

With Amazon Music Unlimited, I can immediately snag a song and Amazon can take a piece of market share.

Here’s how.

The Echo is one of Amazon’s biggest successes. Just like me, all three million Echo owners and users had found a makeshift way to stream music. Yet, with Amazon Music Unlimited, there is an easier way. For a really cheap price, you can tell Alexa to begin your subscription and follow that command up by asking the speaker to play any song you could ever imagine. No phone or computer necessary.

Needless to say, I have already subscribed, and bought an Echo Dot for our bedroom now too. And soon enough, I’ll buy another for my deck.

Could life get sweeter than that?

Galaxy Note 7 fire hazard disaster

Galaxy Note 7 fire hazardThe Samsung Galaxy Note 7 recall because of the Galaxy Note 7 fire hazard has me thinking. What if any long term effect could this Galaxy Note 7 fire hazard have on the BRAND of Samsung?

Sure an exploding or smoldering smart phone is not a product feature in even the most optimistic consumer’s mind. But could this product recall seriously and permanently damage this mega-brand consumer products company?

In a word. Maybe.

Brands have meaning to consumers and great brands have great emotional meaning to customers. They associate with that brand meaning and, because that association should be about the customer and not the product, it becomes personal.

Galaxy Note 7 fire hazardNike has a premier consumer product position, not because it makes the best athletic shoes, but because Nike means the wearer feels like a winner. It’s the Nike promise that you should just do it. Forget the distractions. Keep focused because YOU are a winner for choosing Nike (read about the NIKE brand here). That is the power of BRAND.

I am trying to think about Samsung. What does the brand MEAN? Does the Galaxy Note 7 fire hazard in any way damage that association? I think it does and here is why.

Samsung is the largest electronics company in South Korea. It makes quality products and has infiltrated almost every category of consumer electronics. But it has a very poorly defined brand promise.

Galaxy Note 7 fire hazardLacking that emotional connection, it has allowed the consumer to position it as a value brand. That means Samsung is lower priced than the competition but are generally well made and dependable.

It might not be fair to dis Samsung as lacking in innovation but I think the market does not view it as being an innovator in any way. It is a fast follower, often copying the market leader’s products with a slightly cheaper (value) positioning.

This model has allowed them to steal the thunder from many storied brands. Take Son (Read about the Sony brands here) for instance. Its Trinitron TV brand reinvented the category.

Sony even led the way in flat screen innovation. But Samsung copied those products and dared to make side by side comparisons of product features — all with a value twist. The result? Growth in market share.

Galaxy Note 7 fire hazard has reshaped the smart phone pecking order

Same is true with the smart phone. Everyone knows the category was invented by Apple. Even the courts backed up that statement. Samsung entered the category with a cheaper reproduction and an nearly all-open sourced operating system. Side-by-side comparisons with the iPhone showed similar capabilities at about 50% of the cost.

Galaxy Note 7 fire hazardBut the Galaxy Note 7 fire hazard has undone much of that value cache. The great enemy of value brands is an underlying and almost universal human belief that, at the end of the day, you ALWAYS get what you pay for.

Customers who invest their emotional soul to value brands sit around waiting for the shoe to drop and hoping it does not. Want proof? Ask Value Jet.(Read about the fire that burned up an airline here: ValueJet). A failure by a low cost provider can be fatal to the brand.

Galaxy Note 7 fire hazardI worry that all the problems and bad press over the Galaxy Note 7 fire hazard feels like the shoe has dropped. (You are reminded of it every time you fly on a US passenger airline because they warn you before boarding that, having a Samsung Galaxy Note 7 turned on or charging, is forbidden because of the recall.)

To survive, Samsung might have to double down on its value proposition and make the risk worth the reward by gutting its profit margins.

Or it could call us and we could help them create a REAL brand that incorporates brand repair with a new juggernaut of meaning. Samsung won’t call however. It thinks brand is a logo and name. But there is no need to change either. There is a need to change the meaning.

Google products are interesting but not different

Let me be the first to admit that Google’s new line of technology looks pretty sweet. My interest is piqued when new devices arrive, regardless if I trust the company’s motivations or generally suffer from a fickle relationship with the outfit.

Google
The new products from Google just mimic everyone else.

In case you missed it, Google’s “Made by Google” site is alive and well. Yesterday, the business introduced its response to the iPhone with Pixel, a virtual reality headset called the Daydream View, an updated version of its Chromecast streaming device, and a voice activated speaker called Google Home (think Amazon’s Echo). All of the aforementioned products are solely produced by the company, a change from past practices.

Google really had me with the debut of its new gadgets — possibly because they looked a lot like Apple products. Yet, unfortunately, I speedily lost when it chose to poke fun at Apple, the very company it is mimicking. That doesn’t get anyone to switch and it’s wasted energy.

The only way to steal market share is to be truly different and better than the competition, especially the market leader. A jibe is okay, but it looks empty and petty when your products are no different.

Are the products from Google any different than anyone else?

Here’s exactly what I mean. Google said, “3.5mm headphone jack satisfyingly not new,” which was followed by a cough in jest. That jest was a slight at Apple for not including a headphone jack on the iPhone 7.

What Google missed by that jab was that Apple was thinking differently, which falls in line with its brand. Google has its own powerful brand, but it plays into Apple’s hands when its products do not think different. That means Apple is positioned against them.

While you must position yourself against the market leader to steal share, it’s difficult to do when your own products mimic the market leaders, no matter the industry.